Applying the Gospel
by Mark Fulmer
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses."
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,
and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."
The season was always festooned with lightning bugs. And there was homemade ice cream, dusks that lasted 'til bedtime and picnic dinners on the ground. It was summertime, and the livin' was indeed easy. Sadly though, the same season usually included at least one episode of clenched fists and jutted jaws; grownups raising voices and pawing the dirt with wildness in their eyes. Rarely were there blows, but the spectacle was no less frightening to an elementary age preacher's kid.
Such was the world of church-league fast pitch softball, where Christian men would wrangle over a missed call by an umpire or a player sliding cleats high with nefarious intent. It was unsettling to hear opening prayers give way to murderous shouts.
God's people are no strangers to conflict. In part, that's because God's people have always been a diverse bunch, called from very different backgrounds into the presence of the Lord. And then the Lord's plan is that His people will be united by God to bear God's image in God's world, to be lights to the nations.
The New Testament church felt the strain of diversity immediately and acutely. Think about it, slaves worshiping with their owners, each ransomed by the same finished work of Jesus. Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor were gathered by the unimaginable, unmerited grace of God to create a new race of humanity. Then those new creations were embedded in cultures all around the globe. United in Christ, the church draws others to Christ by proclaiming the good news of Christ. And every culture notices when natural enemies become supernatural allies.
So after no small debate, and guided by the Holy Spirit, the council in Jerusalem emphatically proclaims that the message of the church is, "come to Jesus." It is not, "become just like us." And that same message is particularly poignant today. Wisely managing relationships inside the church and lovingly proclaiming Jesus by the church remain the mandate of the church.
It's hard to imagine what the Apostle Paul must have felt as he wrote his letter to the church in Rome. Here he was, a Jewish rabbi, with a career preaching Jesus to Jews and Gentiles alike writing encouragement to a Christian church in the capitol city of the empire many Jews hated. His was truly a miraculous call to keep the focus on Jesus!
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)
That's way more important than winning.